What Are Brightness Nits? Why Screen Brightness Matters

What Are Brightness Nits? Why Screen Brightness Matters

There is a standard measure of brightness, called nits, that is used for all screens. You may be wondering, “What are nits, and why should you care?”

One particular metric, brightness nits, keeps cropping up as monitors, TVs, and smartphones screen quality improves. Most modern displays have a brightness of over 500 nits, with the best capable of 1,000 or more.

Sure, but what exactly are nits? For what reasons are they crucial to your screen’s overall quality?

What Are Brightness Nits? Why Screen Brightness Matters

What Are Brightness Nits?

To fully grasp what a nit is and how it is measured, it is helpful to first familiarise oneself with some of the more common units of illumination. The first step is to define a candela.

Candela means “candle” in Spanish, and anyone fluent in that language will know that this is an accurate translation. Also, that’s a decent approximation to work with. The candela is the SI’s primary unit for measuring luminosity (SI).

As the goal of this post is to explain nits of brightness in layman’s terms, we won’t get into specific numbers so as to avoid making the topic too complex. One candela is roughly equivalent to the luminous intensity of a single wax candle. Therefore, it’s appropriate to use that name.

What Are Brightness Nits? Why Screen Brightness Matters

Let’s say you’ve lit a candle inside a box that’s exactly one metre on a side. This candle will illuminate the entire square. The amount of light that can penetrate an area of one square metre is measured in nits; this is also written as candelas per square metre (or cd/m²). To the number of candles placed inside the box, one nit is assigned.

In other words, nits measure how much brighter and more intense a display is than a standard wax candle. Putting a smartphone with a 600 nit display inside that same cube should make it appear to be 600 times brighter than a candle.

The nit has emerged as a standard unit of measurement for assessing the brightness of displays across various electronic devices. Even though a few nits of brightness may be sufficient in low-light conditions, there are times when you’ll want a screen with even more illumination (but we’ll get to that).

  • Candela: about the light from 1 candle
  • Nit: the light from 1 candle per square meter
  • More nits: more candles per square meter = brighter display

How Do Nits Compare to Lumens?

Since lumens are more common than nits, you may be wondering “what is a nit” upon first encountering the latter. Understand that nits brightness is not a recognised standard. The Latin word “nitere,” which means “to shine,” is where the word comes from. To avoid making it sound like you’re measuring brightness with candles, nit is often used instead of candela.

How then does a nit dissimilar to a lumen? Lumens are a more all-encompassing measurement of illumination than their nit-specific counterpart. You’ll find lumens on things like flashlights and light bulbs.

The intensity of a light source is quantified in terms of lumens. Lumens could be used to quantify the overall brightness of your television set. Nits would be used to gauge the overall screen brightness. To simplify things, think of nits as a measurement of surface area and lumens as a measure of total light.

Why Are Brightness Nits Important?

What Are Brightness Nits? Why Screen Brightness Matters

As we’ve mentioned before, brightness nits are useful when talking about the brightness of a screen. It’s possible that you could get by with a low-brightness display in low-light conditions, such as inside a room with the lights off. Trouble arises, however, when your surroundings are also very bright. A 50-nit display is easy to read in the dark but extremely difficult to read outdoors.

This is why ultra-bright screens are finally here. Samsung’s flagship Android phone, the Galaxy S22 Ultra, features a display that lights up to an astounding 1,750 nits, making it easy to read the screen even in direct sunlight. The Galaxy S22 Ultra easily surpasses the 1,000 nits threshold, which is typically considered the sunlight viewable brightness level.

Naturally, you should turn it down when you go into a dim room or use your phone’s auto-brightness feature (also found on laptops and other devices). You’ll end up with scorched eyes if you don’t.

High-brightness displays do have benefits, but they also come with a few drawbacks. Keeping your screen’s brightness at a high setting for an extended period of time will reduce its battery life.

Additionally, high brightness can accelerate the display’s deterioration, especially if you’re using an AMOLED panel. If you paid more than $1,000 for your phone, you should probably avoid doing this for the first two years of its life to prevent burn-in.

How Bright Should The Display Be?

It’s time to take a look at the optimal brightness (or darkness) for displays on various gadgets. After all, a super bright display isn’t necessary for every scenario, but a dim one isn’t suitable for everyone either.

Smartphones: 300-1,500 Nits

As for smartphones, here’s the deal: we never leave home without them. Even if you try to avoid it, you’ll probably check your phone in the bright sunlight at least once a day. If your phone’s display isn’t bright enough, even at maximum brightness, you may need to move to a darker area just to read the screen.

This is why it’s important to have as much light as possible on your phone.

With its 1,750 nit screen brightness, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is ideal for outdoor use. Similarly, even if a smartphone doesn’t get quite as bright, many still deliver a serviceable experience outdoors.

Laptops: 200-600 Nits

Your laptop computer is something you would typically use in a confined indoor space, such as a classroom, an office, or even your own living room. When using it outside, you still need a place to sit down, and that spot should ideally be in the shade. Therefore, brightness is not as crucial on a laptop as it is on a desktop computer. Although a less intense level of brightness than on a smartphone screen is acceptable, one is required.

Therefore, a display with a brightness of 200 to 600 nits is adequate. Not that we have anything against brighter lights, but they aren’t as crucial.

Monitors: 100-500 Nits

Now that we have them, computer screens are a necessity. As a matter of fact, they can afford to use even less powerful machines than laptops. Just why is that the situation? This is due to the fact that a PC monitor is almost never used outside of an indoor setting (like an office or a home), while a laptop is used outside of these locations all the time. A brighter setting is also welcome, but is by no means essential.

The Bottom Line

Finding out the screen’s brightness in nits can give you a rough idea of how it will perform in various lighting scenarios before you make a purchase. Nits aren’t everything, but knowing them can help you make a more informed decision when shopping for a new smartphone, laptop, or monitor.

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